Update: the district put this info up at the website. Not sure it helps entirely (especially the "we used experts") but good for them anyway.
End of Update.
Sure looks like it.
I was first aware of this with their tepid endorsement of the levies over "leadership." It was an interesting reason because if that had been the issue, then they should have been troubled over many other levies.
Then, last Friday, on the news roundup on KUOW, I noted that they had a quick discussion of the levies (and naturally, got a lot wrong but those pundits aren't always very up-to-date on school district facts). Eli Sanders from The Stranger came out and very stronger stated that The Stranger had endorsed them. Joni Balter of the Times? Not so much. Odd, given that the Times had indeed endorsed them.
And now we have the long-awaited report from Brian Rosenthal of the Times who, even though he has been on the political beat for months, wrote this piece about BEX.
He doesn't say anything that I didn't already know, have said repeatedly but no one would listen during past BEX levies. It is fairly damning and boy, did he get some choice statements. It's just painful.
But while Tacoma officials are requesting about $30 million for each
of the eight elementaries in their proposal, Seattle is seeking about
$42 million apiece for the six it wants to build.
The considerable cost differences illustrate how widely
school-construction spending varies in Washington — and how Seattle
Public Schools spends far more than other school districts in the state.
Now Rosenthal does point out that Seattle has many geographic challenges when building AND they are building considerably larger than other districts. But...
Seattle’s proposal also includes above-average spending on planning and design.
Edward Peters, a parent and construction expert who chairs a
committee that advises Seattle school officials on levy projects, said
bigger buildings benefit students.
“You do the best you can with the resources you have, and Seattle’s
tax base allows it to build big,” said Peters, who lives in Seattle but
manages the Edmonds School District construction department.
Oh dear. I had no idea, after all the years of going to BEX Oversight Committee meetings, that this was how Mr. Peters viewed the levy dollars.
What does the district consultant say?
“There’s a lot of due diligence that’s been done here,” said Kirk
Robinson, the Puget Sound area’s most experienced cost estimator, whom
Seattle hired for the levy.
Robinson attributed the above-average pricetags to three of the five factors:
• Construction is more expensive in Seattle, he said, and the district favors long-lasting buildings that cost more up front.
But cost breakdowns provided by more than a dozen districts in the
region show that Seattle’s construction costs aren’t actually above
average. Many districts, including Tacoma, use $225 per square foot to
• Robinson also said Seattle faces above-average inflation because its levy would build schools far in the future.
But Tacoma’s construction timeline is very similar to Seattle’s, and several suburban districts aren’t far off.
• Finally, Robinson argued that Seattle’s proposed buildings would
encounter unique site challenges, including a $1 million traffic light
the district may be required to install outside Thornton Creek.
(As an aside, I'm with Kellie LaRue. We need these buildings for the increasing numbers of students. If we need street adjustments, the City should be paying for that light, not the district.)
Now, I have heard the "construction is more expensive in Seattle" line many times and yet have never been told why that is. And "far in the future"? Six years is far in the future?
The most painful section?
While Seattle’s proposal puts soft costs at 51.75 percent of construction costs, Tacoma and others estimate 45 percent.
Using 45 percent would lower Seattle’s costs by about $2 million per school, but Robinson said it’s not feasible.
“People do it, but I don’t know how,” he said.
He explained the costs in part by pointing to strict permitting requirements in Seattle.
But Ken Snyder, the longtime president of Graham Contracting, called permitting fees “peanuts.”
Snyder, who has built schools in Seattle and elsewhere, attributed
Seattle’s high soft costs to a bureaucratic process and reliance on
“They don’t exactly run things lean down there,” he said.
The district's hired consultant has no idea how to lower costs. Hmm.
Here was my comment:
Well, well, do we all remember the Times' somewhat skewed but favorable endorsement of the levies?
To those of us who have been paying attention, none of this is a
surprise. We have been banging this drum, calling out these costs and
overruns and, of course, silliness like building a rotunda in a K-8
But back then the Times said anyone opposing a capital levy was a
bad person and we should trust the district. That was when the Times
had people in leadership THEY liked.
Interesting that, the weekend BEFORE the election date, the Times decides to release this story.
It would almost seem like the Times wants the levies to fail.
Nice job, Times.
Give the low-key (some might say anemic) campaign that Schools First is running and the slowly mounting opposition (though luckily not organized) and now the Times' odd editorial behavior, I have to wonder.
One saving grace - it's pretty late for this article which I had suspected would be a Sunday front-page article.
If you are a parent or staff member who really wants to see this pass, you might want to call or e-mail friends and relatives and neighbors and ask for their support for BOTH levies.